Sunday, October 4, 2015


So, autumn finally came to Indiana. The minute the calendar flipped over to October 1, the temperatures started dropping, and I had to pull out my sweaters and jackets. And for someone who loves to go barefoot and wear sandals, I was sad that I actually had to wear shoes and socks again. And the kids are home for their two-week fall break. I imagine the trees will start turning colors here in another week or so. But today, I will hold onto warmer weather by cooking food from Kuwait today where it’s 102º right now. 

I've always liked spinach dip, but most of it here is made with MSG. So, I'm really glad I can make this myself now.

I actually started off with making a Kuwaiti yogurt spinach dip so that I have time for it to cool. I took my spinach and made sure all the stems were off of the leaves. I bought it as a salad mix of baby spinach, so most of the hard work was already done, but there were still quite a few stems to pinch. I put this in a large pot and covered it with water. Once I brought it to a boil, I let it simmer for 10 minutes. Then I strained it in a colander and let it cool. When it was cool enough, I put it on a cutting board, chopped it up finely, and put it in a large bowl. Then I added in some minced onion, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. When I mixed everything together, I added in some plain yogurt and mixed that in as well.  It seemed that the lemon juice was really overpowering; I tried adding in more pepper to give it a lemon-pepper taste, but it just wasn’t happening. I put this in the refrigerator to cool until it was time to eat. The recipe suggested to top this with dried or chopped mint as a garnish, but I think I’ll just add it to my portion. I liked the addition. I thought it actually went well with the lemon flavor. My husband already gagged at this suggestion. The recipe also recommended to use pita bread to dip in this, but I used some garlic naan instead. I liked this dip, although I think I’ll only use 1 Tbsp of lemon juice next time. I even dipped sliced green bell peppers into it. It would go great with a vegetable tray. 

Confession: I ate two pieces before I told anyone it was even done.

Next, I got started with the bread. I chose Kuwaiti date bread. Dates are incredibly popular in this part of the world. I first soaked 1 c of dates in 1 c warm water. I bought mine already pitted and chopped, but if you buy fresh dates, you’ll have to do that part yourself. In a separate bowl, I mixed 2 c of flour, 2 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt together. In a third bowl, I creamed together 2 Tbsp butter with ½ c sugar and an egg. Then I added the creamed butter mixture to the flour and then added in the dates with the water to the mixture, mixing it all to incorporate everything. I added in about a 1/4 c of what is called “nut topping” to the dough and mixed it in thoroughly. (The recipe calls for 1 c of chopped walnuts or pecans, but I went with nut topping instead, which is chopped peanuts and pecans. I’m sure the change in flavor is negligible. I also cut down on the amount because I didn’t want the nuts to overpower the dates.) Then I transferred the dough into a greased loaf pan. This baked in a 450ºF oven for 33 minutes until it had a golden color on top. That might have been about a minute or two too long. I thought it was starting to get a little too dark on top and on the sides, but I think I caught it before it burnt. It was actually perfect. I loved this so much, I am thinking of making this for Thanksgiving next month. I’m really glad I cut down on the nuts because I could definitely taste them (especially the peanuts part), but because they were chopped small, it didn’t take away from the dates, which is the main ingredient. The crumb was small and moist yet the crust was crispy. Stunningly perfect. Even my kids loved it. In fact, there is less than half of the loaf left. 

[Enter smello-vision here] [Error: can't actually do that. Too bad, so sad. I get to enjoy it all.]

The main dish today is Kuwaiti Shrimp with Rice. One of their most famous dishes is machboos. But since Kuwait and Bahrain share similar cuisines and I had already made a Bahraini machboos when I cooked for that country, I wanted to try a different recipe. So, I found this one. I thought it would be a good reflection of the importance of seafood in their cuisine. First I soaked my saffron threads in a little water with a touch of almond extract in it (in lieu of rosewater; the flavor is different, but I’m hoping this will still do the job). Then I cooked my shrimp in a saucepan with some turmeric and salt and enough water to boil the shrimp. Once they were fully cooked, I drained and preserved the shrimp water for my rice later. I also had to pull the outer shell, legs, tail, and black thread from all of the shrimp as well. I had never cooked raw shrimp; I always buy fully cooked shrimp, so this was a learning experience in “I truly hope I’m not killing my family with undercooked shellfish.” I was unprepared for the array of color changes one small shrimp displays in its delicious afterlife. Anyway, in a separate bowl, I mixed my minced garlic, ginger, and green peppers together and set aside. I took out a saucepan and sautéed my onions until they were translucent with a touch of lemon juice, then I added in my garlic-ginger-green pepper mix to it. (I left out the black lime powder from this mix since I had no idea where to find it, and it would probably be expensive if I did; I substituted the touch of lemon juice instead.). To this I added in the rest of the spices: baharat mix (I luckily still had some made from when I cooked from Bahrain), salt, cardamom powder, turmeric, vegetable oil, and coriander. After stirring for a few minutes, I added the shrimp back in and let it cook for a few more minutes, sprinkling in a little of the fake saffron-rosewater mix into it. I covered it and let it simmer for a few more minutes before taking it off the heat.

But now it’s time for the rice. In my large deep-sided skillet, I used some of the reserved shrimp broth with some water and adding in some cardamom pods, cinnamon, black pepper, and clove (other than the cardamom pods, I didn’t have whole spices for the last three, so I was hoping the ground versions wouldn’t make this gross, which it didn’t). Once it was all boiling, I added in a pinch of salt as well. Then I added in my rice and stirred so it wouldn’t stick, boiling this until it was half cooked (about 8-10 minutes or so). Then I made a well, pouring the shrimp mix into the well, and covering it back with the rice I took out. I poured in the last of the fake saffron-rosewater on top of that and cooked for another 20 minutes. I was also worried that my rice would burn, so I added in some more water (probably about another ¼ c water). To serve this, I’m supposed to somehow dig out my shrimp from inside the rice and serve them separately. Maybe others can do that, but I just left the shrimp in the middle. This dish was also a winner—everyone loved this. The flavors melded together in absolute perfection. I just wish I had more shrimp. The balance of sweet spices with more subtle savory flavors (like the shrimp water flavoring the rice) is the key to this dish.

I really liked this, and no, I didn't share either. I really meant to save some for others. I tried. Sorry, not sorry.

Finally, I made a traditional-style saffron-cardamom Kuwaiti tea. I doubled this recipe: mixing together water, saffron, and cardamom in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil. Then I added in four green tea bags and let it steep for a few minutes. I removed the cardamom pods and tea bags before adding in a little bit of sugar before pouring a glass. My husband thought it smelled like medicine, but I thought it smelled good. I think he was actually smelling the black cardamom pods. I think it was a good finish to the meal. 

I can't wait for lunch tomorrow. I really can't. Maybe I'll share. Maybe.

As usual, I always look forward to cooking my meals. And I always pick recipes that I’m fairly sure I’d like. But sometimes a recipe will surprise me. It either surprises me at its simplicity or by its complexity. The shrimp and rice had a very complex flavor. When I look at Islamic architecture, it’s very much geometry-based in both design and aesthetics. This careful planning and precision in the details makes or breaks a space. It’s the same with their cooking and the balance between sweet, sour, spicy, and savory. These dishes have had centuries in the making, and it’s evident by the number of spices they used that they were at the hub of the spice trade—it was the best of all possible worlds. And I’m grateful I got a chance to experience this in a remotely miniscule way.

Up next: Kyrgyzstan

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